Ring A Bell?

Like last year's BCS Championship Game, Buckeyes offensive line has hands full

Jan. 7, 2008

By Adam Caparell



Everyone knows the story.


Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer.
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Everything imaginable went wrong for Ohio State in last year's BCS Championship Game. And at the top of that list you could put the play of the offensive line who, to put it bluntly, failed miserably to protect Troy Smith and establish any semblance of a running game in the Buckeyes blowout loss to Florida.


It turned out the speed of the Gators' front seven was more than Ohio State could handle that night. The Buckeyes looked a step slower, unable to prevent their quarterback from being sacked five times, and unable to do much of anything offensively.   




And now that Ohio State finds itself playing for the national title for the second straight season, the questions about the offensive line's ability to hold up against one of the best front sevens in the country has come front and center entering Monday night.


After all, three linemen who started last year's championship game - Kirk Barton, Steve Rehring and  Alex Boone - will be starting against LSU, faced with the duty of blocking the likes of Glenn Dorsey and Kirston Pittman - just to name a few - who help make up LSU's potent defensive front.


"These guys do a really good job pressuring, and are very athletic, very tough, very strong, very physical," Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. "And that's got to be an important part of our game this week. We've got to do a good job."


Ohio State didn't do a good job of that last year when the Buckeyes managed just 82 yards of offense. And each of those linemen who were embarrassed by their performance has carried the shame and regret into this year's title game.


That's why a lot of talk from Ohio State has been about redemption and proving wrong all the critics who can't get over the awful performance the Buckeyes authored in Glendale.


A lot of them chalk up last year's dud to a few factors. For one, there was the pull of the NFL for a number of Buckeyes that proved to be a bigger distraction than anyone could have believed. And then the Buckeyes bought into the hype surrounding their impressive march to the championship game. They read the articles, listened to how everyone thought there was no way they'd lose, and figured they'd be fine.


"Last year, people kept saying, `You're going to win, you're going to win,'" Boone said. "You start to think, `We're going to win. Maybe we don't have to practice as hard as we are.' This year it's the opposite. `You're too slow, you're not going to make it, you don't hit hard enough.' We've been taking practices up another level and running and hitting as hard as we can and I think it's going to be different."


But it's certainly not going to be easy for the offensive linemen. The Buckeyes game plan starts with trying to find a way to keep Dorsey in check - easier said than done.


Widely regarded as the nation's best defender - he did, after all, win four major individual defensive awards this year - Dorsey's got a motor to match his considerable talents. He gets into seams, pushes blockers out of the way and creates havoc for opposing offenses. And for those reasons, the tackle will often require a double team.


"I mean, he's obviously...he might be one of the most decorated defensive players in history," Barton said. "I've never seen a guy who swept every award the way he did this year. It's obviously going to be a great challenge for us. He's a tremendous player. Their whole front is tremendous. We've been studying them for about five weeks now and they're definitely one of the top units I've ever faced. And it's going to be a big challenge. It's going to be a big key to the game."


It's overly simplistic to say the play of the offensive line is important for any offense, but it's incredibly important for the Buckeyes in this year's national title game. For starters, Ohio State features a young, relatively inexperienced quarterback. There's no veteran behind center this time around, no Heisman Trophy winner to bank on, with Todd Boeckman now running the offense. The first-time starter played well in his first full season, but hasn't faced a defense like this one yet. And secondly, Ohio State's offensive success is largely predicated on the running of Chris Wells, who rushed for 1,463 yards. The Buckeyes are at their best when he's racking up yards because it's allowed Boeckman more time to operate in the pocket, work in the play-action and hit on the home run, something he did quite frequently this season.


"In every game you feel like the most important part of the game is up front, protection-wise and run blocking. The passing game can't be efficient without good protection. It's impossible," Barton said. "It's something that we focused on this entire year, because we had a new quarterback. And we had to make sure he was comfortable in the pocket so he could develop himself. Because if he was always hurt he would never be able to really get a good grasp of what he could do. So we focused on that the entire season, the entire off-season."


Ohio State was one of the best in the nation at keeping its quarterback upright and Boeckman finished in the top 15 of passing efficiency. But can the Buckeyes' front five - led by those returning starters from last season - hold up against LSU's attack?


It didn't against Florida last year when Jarvis Moss - a first-round NFL Draft pick last season - and Derrick Harvey - a projected first round draft pick this April - were impossible to stop. Now Barton, Rehring, Boone and the rest of them get set to take on Pittman, Tyson Jackson, a pretty good linebacking corps, and of course, Dorsey. The nation's best defensive player could very well wind up as the No. 1 pick in April's draft, but there are plenty of other future NFL players on the LSU roster.


"We all know about Dorsey being very, very tough inside," Bollman said. "And I think he's probably the best person that we've played against all season as an inside player. Then these guys are very, very quick and running really, really well on the outside. You know, comparable to Florida, I don't know. We'll see. But they're very, very good. They're very, very good. They're much bigger. I'll say this, they're much bigger. Period."


Bigger, faster, stronger, better than Florida? Ohio State better hope not because if you base future returns on past performances then the matchup at the line of scrimmage looks to be in LSU's favor. It's a story the Buckeyes hope isn't repeated.